Updated: 15-dec-08
© Stephen Bennett 2000-2005

My African sojourn began on December 12 in Nairobi, Kenya. Before my trip began in earnest, a few weeks were spent acclimating to the new continent. My girlfriend and partner [at the time], Jenni, joined me and together we set off for Namibia to travel around that beautiful and remarkable country. Our objective was to learn as much as possible, and especially to meet as many of the Namibian people as possible.

We began in Windhoek, located in the heart of the country. From there we set out to the northeast where, near Tsumkwe and Gam, we met up with the San and Herero people. A hunter and gatherer society, the San are one of the oldest continuous cultures indigenous to Africa. Their language is unique for its phonetic clicking sounds. Originally they lived in more fertile land but over time they have been pushed out into the desert fringes. Now they make their home on the edges of the Kalahari and Namibian deserts. Like many Westerners, I was first introduced to the San people through the cult-classic movie, "The Gods Must Be Crazy" and while visiting the San, I had the good fortune to meet and paint Gag'o #Oma, the San bushman star of that movie. He is indeed a special person, and meeting him was one of the major highlights of my trip. His portrait is entitled, of course, The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Next, we reversed direction and headed west. We traveled through Etosha National Park, famous for its diversity of wildlife. We were charged by desert elephants, and had a close call with a white rhino. Turning northwest we passed through Opuwo on our way to Epupa Falls, which is right on the border with Angola. Here we met the Himba people. The Himba people still maintain their traditional ways and dress despite the constant march of modernization around them. For this reason I thought we would have difficulty finding them, so we feel especially fortunate that we were able to find them and spend time with them. The paintings, Himba Super-Model, Himba Braids, and Ochre And Fat are portraits of Himba women.

Heading south through Damaraland we found the Damara people. Coca Cola Kid is a portrait of a Damara child we met. Then it was through the Namib desert and on to the Skeleton Coast, so named for the thousands of animal skeletons that litter the seldom-visited beaches. From Walvis Bay on the Skeleton Coast, we headed due east back to Windhoek, inland through the great sand dunes. From Windhoek, we flew south to Keetmanshoop and then drove further south to Fish River Canyon, the Namibian equivalent to the Grand Canyon. On this leg of the trip we met White Afrikaans speaking people and the Nama people. Manny's Friend Kido Voss is a Nama gentleman we had the pleasure of meeting. In Namaland we also met a 122-year-old Nama lady, who recalled for us the German occupation of Namibia during WWII. After our time with the Nama, we returned to Windhoek by car. Finally we had to depart Namibia. We returned to Arusha, Tanzania where we spent the next five months living under the shadow of Mount Meru. During this period, I painted portraits of the Namibian people from the studies I had made while traveling and visiting among them.

Once I had completed a series of portraits, we then resumed our travel and headed for the Maldives via the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I spent a few days in the UAE photographing the people of Dubai. Then we flew on to the Maldives and visited the islands of Male and Gam where I made my photographic studies of the people of the Maldives. Then back to Arusha, Tanzania and the final segment of my trip, which was to culminate in a local exhibition of the portraits I had painted. The exhibition of my Tanzanian and Namibian portraits was held at the Cultural Heritage Center in Arusha. It opened in June of 2002 and ran for three months until September. After the exhibit, Jenni and I returned to New York.